Meet Kerry Duncan, our Heritage Researcher for our EPIC STAGE STORY project – many of you around our network may already know her as she has been travelling over the region listening to all your stories to track the history of rural touring in the highlands and islands over the past 20 + years! Today, we have decided to turn the spotlight on Kerry to hear about what it is she does, what she’s discovered about The Touring Network and of course her EPIC STAGE STORY
Hi Kerry, tell us a bit about you… where are you based, how long have you lived there and what does a researcher do?
I am a heritage researcher based on the Black Isle Peninsula, 20 miles north of Inverness. I’ve lived here for the past 5 years, after studying Social Anthropology at University in Aberdeen and working in a museum there. I am originally from Drumnadrochit.
As a researcher I am given a brief for a project, then it’s my job to gather the information from various sources, such as regional and national archives, museums, publications, journals, digital resources; and of course from people. That’s definitely my favourite method, going to someone’s house or place of work and starting with some opening questions to trigger memories. Even if the person starts off a little nervous about being recorded, they usually settle after a while and the stories flood out. It can be very cathartic, and I love seeing the reactions from people who see their own personal stories come to life in an exhibition or publication.
How do you find it living in the Highlands? (pros and cons) …
I really love living in the Highlands, even more so now I am a heritage researcher. When I look out over the landscape it’s not just all hills, trees and lochs to me, it’s past settlements, crofts, battle grounds and monuments and lots of stories still to be discovered. It’s such a diverse landscape too, I’m always finding new places to explore and it’s a great place to raise children.
And as a freelancer, how about work? (pros and cons)…
Freelance work really suits me, being in control of my schedule and working across different projects is really, really thrilling. There are times when I have very busy periods-but I’m lucky my family are all very understanding.
This Heritage Project is your first interaction with The Touring Network; from your research what is your overarching feeling on what the network means to the people in the region?
When PAN begun 20 years ago it was an absolute necessity to keep performances touring the Highlands and Islands. Changes in the Highland Council meant that Promoters were out on their own and no longer had Arts Officers for support. By creating a network with meetings, get-togethers, newsletters and handbooks, PAN kept the wheels turning. The Touring Network still provides that support to promoters and it is vital.
How helpful was tourbook in digging into who the promoters are in our network?
I found it very useful to look at different venues, find contact details for promoters, and also to see what venues were hosting touring performances for the filmmaker Beth Chalmers to film.
As part of the Heritage Project, you have had the opportunity to travel the length and breadth of our beautiful region, any stand out trips?
All of the trips stood out in different ways, I travelled to Dunoon and Cove, my first time in that part of the country, also to the Universal Hall Findhorn, Resolis, Drumnadrochit, Abriachan, Poolewe, Ullapool, Skye and Wick.
I think Skye stood out the most because Duncan MacInnes and his wife Polly were so welcoming, and the music by Mike Vass, Mairearad Green, and Sean Gray was absolutely enchanting. It was lovely to see the interaction between Duncan and the very grateful community members who come along to SEALL events. It was a magical evening in a beautiful venue and everyone left smiling.
Lyth Arts Centre, Wick was the most surprising. You don’t expect to find a place like that in such a rural spot. You walk in and see the grand piano, the french doors leading out to the garden and then the fantastic little theatre, it takes your breath away. Charlotte and Tom create such a lovely atmosphere too. It’s somewhere I want to keep visiting.
You’ve pulled together such an amazing archive of stories for the Heritage Project which will go on to make up our EPIC STAGE Story Digital Archive and roaming pop-up display and film, what do you hope communities will take away from your findings?
I hope that communities will be inspired by the findings and more people will get involved in promoting. I think promoters will get real enjoyment from reading some of the stories, some will bring a laugh, others a tear and they will definitely identify with stories from other places.
We’ve loved working with you on the project, Kerry. You’re a perfect balance of inquisitive, kind, approachable and a very organised worker. From what you’ve seen, what are common qualities that make up a rural promoter in our network?
I think a lot of the promoters had lived outwith the Highlands, where culture was more accessible; or had been to a lot of performances in other places and then thought, why can’t we have that here? Then they looked into it and made it happen. Personal qualities would be they are vibrant, multi-taskers, determined, fun, focused, and have a good sense of humour. I am completely in awe of each and every one of them.
Finally, we’d love to hear your EPIC STAGE STORY…
As a 7 year old girl I walked the short walk from my house down to the Glen Urquhart Public Hall in Drumnadrochit. I was full of nerves and excitement to see my first ever performance on stage. As I crossed the road I saw the most brightly painted bus I had ever seen, it said ‘The Clown Jewels’ on the side. I usually went to the hall for Christmas parties and school discos, but I had never seen anything like this in my life. There were clowns running up through the audience, people jumping about the stage, there was so many lights, colours and sounds it was a bit scary (but in the way kids enjoy.) I completely forgot where we were, the place transformed into somewhere out of this world. They were loud, crazy and unforgettable. Every time I saw that bus pull up I would be so excited (and I still am when I think about it now!)
A personal highlight for me was getting to meet Dave Smith and John McGeoch from The Clown Jewels and having a look around John’s warehouse full of masks, theatre-props, signs and sculptures.
It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with The Touring Network and to meet all these remarkable promoters, audience, theatre producers musicians and performers across the Highlands and Islands. It’s certainly something I will never forget.
The pleasure has honestly been all ours, Kerry. We are very excited to share all the stories shes been collecting, starting at The Gathering in September.
You can find out more information on Kerry on her website: https://kerryjduncan.com/